On December 17, 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 -- aka the Magnuson Act -- is signed into law, permitting Chinese immigration for the first time since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It also allows Chinese people already in the United States to become citizens for the first time since the Naturalization Act of 1790. Democratic U.S. Representative (later senator) Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) of Washington state submits the bill. Throughout his 36-year career in Congress, Magnuson will champion improved relations with China, regardless of the political party in power.
Racist Policy Begins to Change
Chinese men by the thousands flocked to the United States in the 1850s and 1860s to seek gold during the gold rushes and to build sections of the transcontinental railroads. But the gold ran out, the transcontinental railroads were completed, and the long depression of the 1870s created massive unemployment, with Chinese people at the bottom of the economic ladder. Mobs drove the Chinese out of Seattle and Tacoma and anti-Chinese riots wracked Los Angeles and San Francisco. Through the ensuing decades, fear of Chinese immigrant "hordes" fueled racist immigration laws.
The Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 was hardly revolutionary. "The repeal of this act was a decision almost wholly grounded in the exigencies of World War II, as Japanese propaganda made repeated reference to Chinese exclusion from the United States in order to weaken the ties between the United States and its ally, the Republic of China" (U.S. State Department).
The repeal act only allowed 105 Chinese people into the country, a quota determined by the Immigration Act of 1924 -- the latest of several revisions to the original 1882 Exclusion Act, all of which tightened strictures against Chinese immigration. And the Immigration Act of 1924 also had a catch 22. It said that aliens ineligible for citizenship -- which included Chinese people -- were barred from entering the country.
Nevertheless, the 1943 measure portended change. "Although it was only a small step toward an ethnically egalitarian immigration and naturalization policy, it can now be seen that the repeal of Chinese exclusion was the hinge on which the nearly closed golden door of immigration began to swing open again" (Daniels). The repeal act also opened the door in 1946 to legislation admitting Filipino and Indian immigrants, this time designed to improve relations with The Philippines and India.
This immigration system remained in place until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the national-origin quotas established by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Nationality Act became law on July 1, 1968, and did trigger a rise in immigration, especially from Asia.